Help Understanding seriousness of Phosphates in FOWLR


Reefing newb
Hey all, newbie here.

I registered because i just don't see the answers here or online. I tried to find a post to answer my question but skinnypetes thread started did not get too far into it.

I need help both with what to do, why its happening and basic personal growth in understanding more about my fav hobby.

So since i have yet to setup my profile with all my tid bits, and i think to save you having to refrence another link to get it here we go with my specs.

90 Gal tall show tank Glass, with a 10 gal sump over the back (no overflows
I have vho 2 10k and 2 attintic with 4 moon lights and i run them about 9 hours (attintics longer for the glow and peace at night for more enjoyment)
I don't know the exact rate of flow for the in sump pump but would guess it is about 300-500gph at 4-5' of head.
I have 3 maxi jet current makers of varying speeds from 300gph on up. (models 600 900 and 1200 i think)

I also have an over the back marineland filter to help catch debri from the water column. It hangs a bit over half way down and is a new model i just replaced.

A protien skimmer just added in sump. It has yet to foam up enough to add anything into the collection cup and is only 2 days old. I am still tweaking, but ignore for purposes of past, just consider if it will impact my future.

I am mostly fowlr. I have all crushed coral substrate and live rock.
I have a yellow eye tang, blue hippo, flame angle, marine beta.
Also a Ritteri hosting 3 tomato clowns on the far left and a green bubble tip hosting a mated pair of maroon clowns.
Side note, both female clowns (maroon and larger cinnamon tomato) will attck me when my hand goes in. The tomato will come all the way over to the oppisite side to get me, and the marron will not travel so far but comes out to "intimidate me to keep my distance)
The bubble tip ann is abnormal as it attaches to the bottom of a live rock and hangs down. When i tried turning the rock to help it upright and get more light it walked to the other side to be under it again. It seem happy but i worry about it not getting the light.
I also have a SEA HARE, tiny brittle star, 10-15 crabs (blues reds and electrics) and about 8 snails such as elephant and nassari, and 4 mexican turbos.
And an electric scallop, cleaner shrimp, 4 convict blenny (aka engineer doby) and an horseshoe crab. Last a purple hatian annen. Somehow i think i am missing something.

Ok so if I missed some detail forgive me as i tried to be thorogh. Now for water quality and issues.

My ph is always at 8.2x. My amm is always at 0. My nitrates are always 0->5. My nitrites are always 0.

I used to do water changes with tap water and about 20-30%. Now i have a ro system and 2 containers to make and store ro and salted water ready to go. As of now i have done 2 water changes with ro of 50-60%. My temp is always 78-80 later in the day.

And the kicker. My phosphates were off the scale of 10ppm. After water changes i could see it lower and readable on the scal of say 5, but very short lived. I did my last water change of 60 gallons Sunday. My phosphates were back through the roof Monday.

Everyone seems healthy, happy and fine. Is this something to worry about? I read to rince foods before giving, and will start doing this. I feed a platter of frozens and some flake, some variety a day, switching it around. I don't see it all gone in 2 minutes, but watch the amm and nitrate and nitrite very close and never see a spike.

So i cannot figure out what is causing the high phos. Also note, since i have no refugium, i have a breeder net with several species of macro alges up at the top of the tank. Since aquireing the sea hare i have no hare alge and it takes a week to get a build up on the glass. (the snails do the glass, the sea hare will not).

So i have to becareful not to remove all phosphate as i do need a balance for some alge to grow for the sea hare. He does not always take to alge waviers nor nori sheets. And the macros (also recently added) will compete with the nucience alges.

So what are your thoughts for causes so i can play with the balance of minimizing them without chemicals to simply absorb them all and have no food for the grazers?

Let me know if i should worry about the green bubble tip annen liking to be upside down on the rocks?

Last do cinnamon tomato clowns naturally have a lighter color in the tail? she is the only cin, the other two are simple reg tomato clowns so i cant tell the norm and wonder about tail rot??

Thanks guys.
If the anemone prefers to hang upside down, I'd leave it be. The last thing I'd want is a pissed off 'nem wandering around my tank.

As far as the phosphates, the largest sources are food, source water, and fish waste. Your stock list is pretty long for a 90 gallon, and it includes several larger fish. I'm guessing fish waste has something to do with this. I'd also say that flake food is generally high in phosphates and a lot of people here will tell you not to use it.

Personally, I feed formula two flake once or twice a day in small amounts, but I have several large, active tangs and angels. They also get some frozen once a day as well. I would check your frozen, the stuff I use is not supposed to be rinsed (its made by a local reefer) but a lot of the commercial stuff should be rinsed before going into the tank.

You're RO is likely removing phosphate from your source water, but to be sure (and to make sure you have a full understanding of the situation) I would run a phosphate test on your source both before and after the RO.

Oh, and welcome to the site
Thanks. Thats a good idea as i have no other phos testers and wonder if it is shot. It is only months old. I will test tap and post ro system as i now have a 55gal drum to fill up.

However, do you have thoughts meantime if this poses a danger to fish/inverts? I wanted to research before reacting. My thinking is since i have no coral/reef besides live rock and otherwise natural bacteria in the crushed coral, if safe then I will tolorate somewhat to keep the alge growing for the sea hare. Having said that i still want to track down the cause so i can nip it if i get a bloom.
I agree, leave the Nem alone, if he wants more light, less light, whatever, he will move to where he is comfortable.

About your seahare, unless you have hair algae issues, get him out of there. His entire diet consists of that, and without food, well you can guess what will happen.

Your foods are most likely causing your Phosphate issues. I'd continue to do about 20 gallon water changes every other day to bring them down. Also, are you vacuuming your crushed coral? That will hold alot of crap, and release it when you vacuum it. Do you have bio balls of any sort in the system? If so, replace them with live rock rubble.
In high enough concentration, I'd guess that Phosphates would be detrimental to fish and or inverts besides coral. The more dangerous thing about Phosphates is that they tend to be the limiting nutrient for nuisance algae in most closed systems. With elevated phosphates you're more likely to encounter Cyano / Dino's - and trust me from personal experience - you do NOT want that crap in your tank
Check on the annen. He has been left alone, except when i do the water changes and get under the rock. He does not seem to mind as i put the rock back where it was, but man does the female marron clown get pissed.

I do have bio balls in the sump. Not sure how i can replace as it goes through the prefilter and drops on them and flows over to the pump. In other words i think its open, but now that i say it It doesn't make sence. Will check. I do vacumm with a teel external (and loud) 300 gph pump that does great and helps me go quick. If i stir the substrate all settles in under 5 minutes.

PHos at tap is prob around 1.5-2 (in between grid) and after RO is 0>.25. Def not 0 but not .25 either. BTW, ro sys is about 130 gallons since new.

As for the sea hare all brownish hair alge (from tap water change days) is gone for months. we feed him alge sheets, and have the macro's in the tank for him to munch on. We have been going on like this for at least a month solid, though he has become very lathargic since my water change Sunday. I figured it to be stress. As i read it he can eat parboild lettice and some alge sheets. What else can i do?

Please explain what are Cyano / Dino's ? links to info?

I agree it seems to be something going into the tank. Would food say if it has phosphates?
If i cut the source would levels disapate as macro and nucs alges eat it?
Just checked, bio balls sit on egg crate. So to remove I would have to cover egg crate with larger rocks to make a layer to prevent coral from sifting through. Would this work or is there a better way.
Cyano - Cyanobacteria. Even with low phosphates many tanks get an outbreak of this at the 6 month mark. Its also called the Red Plague. Its a really nasty form of nuisance algae that has caused at least one reefer I knew to tear his tank down and get out of the hobby out of frustration. I battled it myself for about 3 months

Dino's - Dinoflagellates. This is very similiar to cyano, but its brown and stringy so basically everything in your tank will look like its covered in snot. This is also a very difficult algae to get rid of once it shows up

For both these and other types of nuisance algae, the nutrient that is normally the limiting vector to their growth is phosphates - meaning there is enough nitrates in the water to support them, but not phosphates. When phosphate levels are high, it greatly increases the tanks susceptibility to these types of outbreaks.

Less that .25 ppm from the source shouldn't really be an issue, but that fact that you're testing so high with macro's in the tank is rather odd. Most macros absorb phosphates and nitrates out of the water. What macro's do you have in your tank?

Knowing that your source water is okay, I'm going to go with a combination of you're feeding too much too often, and your tank is on the overstocked side of the spectrum - meaning you have more nutrients being added than you can effectively export.

I guess you could try to skim wetter with a larger / more powerful skimmer, try to increase the size of your refugium and add addtional macro algaes such as cheatomorpha or caulerpa, or look at removing some of the livestock from the tank. My hippo tank looks cramped in my 180 some days, I couldn't imagine mine being happy in a 90, and he's not even that big yet
I should mention i used to have the tank up on a ledge in the wall. It looked great but made the maint very difficult. My water quality was bad as changes were not getting done regularly and reach into the tank was hindered. We moved it back down to its stand a month or two ago and bought the RO system along with some 55gal drums to make and store fresh water.

My phosphates then were also off the scale. As was some hair alge which we did not mind knowing we wanted to get the sea hare. Now having moved the tank, done several 50% plus water changes everything is looking great. Color density in the fish (yellow strip in marrons and blue dots in marine beta are noticably improved). I am sure that my phosphates came down since, but have climbed back up.

I am trying to get into a refugium but seems like everyone makes thier own. So in the mean time i bought 1 handful of macro's from LFS. They just gave me an assortment. I do not know all the kinds. I tied a breeder net at the top to issolate them and give them the light.

As of now, i have no alge problem to complain about. I get some green slime on the glass after a week, but the snails keep up on it very well. I only ever see the turbos (4) doing this glass regularly. the rest bury in the substrate and seldom venture the glass. My nitrites and nitrates have been testing 0 for over a month.

I have been rinsing my over the back filters. I can try replacing them if they would hold phosphates that a rinse would not get rid of?

I can feed less to be sure. However i worry about feeding less often. I usually feed a frozen melady 5 times a week, with some smaller pellet amounts earlier in the day. I usually cut up a slider or shrimp for the annens.

Like i said i just added the protien skimmer. Are you suggesting this will help with the high phos levels? It is just starting to add to the collection cup, now about 15% full for the first time ever.

All my fish are really small. The marine beta is by far the largest, and the blue hippo next being less then the size of my palm. He actually just swims upwards in the sump return current. Like i said everyone seems really happy. I just worry about getting it under control.

I am worried about the sea hare. If anyone is nearby and wants to setup an excahnge where we can trade him back and forth when alge levels get low, let me know. He is awsome and just a machine. I never saw a pleco with so much coverage.
You have HOB filters? I would get rid of them completely if I were you. Your sand, rock and skimmer will be adequate filtration, and chances are the HOB filters (which are a freshwater technology) are only adding to your problem.

To remove the bioballs, you can remove the egg crate as well, or you can leave it in and just put the live rock rubble right on top (bigger pieces like you said).
When you take out the bioballs, make sure you do it slowly (like a handful or so a week) so you don't kick off another cycle with the amount of junk you'll release into the water.

As far as your fish, even if they are "really small" they are going to get big. That's fine that your blue is happy in your tank for now, but he will not be forever. And if he is the size of your palm already, that day is coming soon. Please please rehome him.
Also, with three clowns in a tank that size, there is a solid chance the pair is going to kill your single.

Your LFS should be more than happy to take back your sea hare, or you can check out your local club. The one here has a sea hare that gets passed from tank to tank.